From her start as a mainstream documentarian, Kelly Holland has slowly but steadfastly risen her way to the top of the adult entertainment empire, having assumed the roles of CEO and Owner of the Penthouse brand in February 2016. In this in-depth interview with CJAsher.com, Kelly Holland shares her experiences working in the adult entertainment industry, how the industry has changed during her career, the history of Penthouse and what defines the Penthouse brand.
C.J. Asher – First of all, thank you for this interview and congratulations on your recent acquisition of Penthouse. What was it like trying to acquire the company?
Kelly Holland – I worked on the acquisition of Penthouse for almost three years; it was a very daunting task. When I first started, I thought it would be relatively easy: iconic brand in the hands of management which has grown its broadcast from zero to fifty percent of the revenue, who understood it and understood how to move it forward. I was so wrong about that. It was so challenging and I spent so much time in the process of trying to do this acquisition, but it finally completed on February 19th at 1:39pm Pacific Coast Time. So we’re off and running; we’re already engaging in deals and opportunities that we thought we wouldn’t even look at until year two. Things are moving very fast, but all in a productive way, I might say.
C.J. Asher – So, tell me a little bit about yourself and your career. I know, early on, that you were a mainstream documentarian. What prompted your transition into the adult entertainment industry?
Kelly Holland – I actually came into adult to do a documentary on adult called “Porn in The USA.” I was working with two people out of Australia. I had inadvertently stumbled into adult because I had post-production facilities that supported my bad documentary habit. Vivid brought some content into my post-production facilities and had been doing some editing. That was my first touch-point to adult and then, through that, I had people say, “oh, well, you know some people, so let’s do a documentary.” The very nature of a documentary filmmaker is to put themselves into interesting environments, to go down a variety of rabbit holes and see what’s at the bottom of the rabbit hole. When some documentary people go in, they have a story to tell and they find the facts that support the preconceived story that they have and it just substantiates what they think. That’s never been my style of documentary filmmaking. My style, my great fun in doing documentaries is to go in and say “I know nothing, so now tell me what they story is,” because the story that comes when you go in with an open mind is always infinitely more interesting and usually more ironic than anything you could’ve imagined.
C.J. Asher – How was your view of adult different changed by doing this documentary?
Kelly Holland – What I found in adult, much to my surprise – because it was against the clichés that had been put out in popular media – was that the women were, for the most part, very articulate and very well thought out in terms of their decisions to get into adult. You have “broken toys,” you have girls with various sorts of problems and issues that they’re working through, but that is the minority. Most of the women then – and it continues to be the case – are thoughtful and independent. They’re not being manipulated by some guy behind the scenes that’s taking ninety percent of the revenue that they’re making. They’re all extremely independent. And so, as a feminist and, politically, as a leftist, what began to emerge, for me, was that these women were on the front lines of feminism. Before there was a term called “slut-shaming,” these women were defying it. These women were owning their bodies, controlling their bodies and, basically, daring anyone around them to judge them. I always say that, even now, even fifteen, twenty, a hundred, a thousand years later, we still have a society, both men and women, that judge women who are highly sexualized. Sometimes they’re admired and envied but, many times, they’re judged. And they’re judged by other women, which is actually the saddest judgment and the harshest judgment and the most hypocritical judgment. I think women should all be comfortable with their own choices sexually, and they should also support the choices that the women around them make, even if that choice is celibacy. I’m not inherently advocating for girls to take their clothes off and have sex on camera, nor am I inherently advocating a highly sexualized life. If you choose celibacy, I think that’s as legitimate of a choice; or monogamy, that’s as legitimate of a choice, as the choice that the girls in the adult industry make. All of those are valid, all of those should be supported as long as it is the woman making the choice. Her choice – not her brother’s choice, not her father’s, not the rabbi, not the priest, not the mullah, not her husband’s choice – of owning her body. We’re in a society that stands in a sort of schizophrenic dilemma about sexuality: we use it everywhere, we understand its effectiveness as an advertising tool, we understand it’s one of the primal motivators: survival, food, shelter and procreation. It’s one of those things that’s so hard-wired in our brain, but we have such a hard time coming to terms with it. Everything is underpinned, particularly our society today with politics, so entrenched in cultural wars that are usually based in some issue about sexuality, whether it’s issues of gay rights, transgender rights or women’s rights around their bodies. I mean, look at Utah right now. That’s about as retrograde as possible: the governor now announces that pornography is a public safety hazard, when Utah is the state that consumes the highest amount of online porn, has the age of consent at sixteen years of age and had polygamy and sister wives, so go figure. They just recently had a raid on a high-end theater, one of the theaters that serves food and alcoholic drinks at your seat. I go to one in Thousand Oaks that’s called Cinepolis. They just had the vice squad raid this high-end theater right near there because they were selling cocktails where they were showing Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds is nude in Deadpool, so it was “liquor and obscenity,” which violates either a local ordinance or a state ordinance. So, you still have completely medieval approaches and positions on sex. I think it’s never more pointed than it has been in the last ten or so years as, I think, we’ve seen a rise in religious fundamentalism. It’s been Islam, most prominently, but also Christianity and Judaism. You have, on one end of the spectrum, women who are dragged into soccer stadiums and shot in the head and cobbled because they have the audacity to have sex with the person that they want to have sex with. On the other end of the spectrum, you have girls who are very open and in control of their sexuality, like Penthouse Pets, as an example. To be glib, as I always say, you’ve got Kabul on one end of the line and a Penthouse Pet on the other end, and I’m happy to be on the other end of the line as the Pet. You have many, many points in between. You think about things happening in countries that are in crisis… countries in the Middle East, countries in Africa where you have genital mutilation. I will tell you that I had a woman who worked with me who was Orthodox and divorced who, in Los Angeles in 2014 – in the heat of the summer, in August – wore a wig because ‘nobody should see your hair but your husband.’ “Oh, yeah, but I’m divorced;” I never questioned her on it, it’s not my right to question her on it. We still see, in one of the most sophisticated urban environments in the world, Los Angeles, in 2014, 2015, 2016… you still see people driven by custom, driven by what I call “general medievalism,” that doesn’t make a lot of sense and puts a lot of burden on creating this false chastity around women, that women are always the temptresses unless they’re the virgins. There’s no in-between and no way to reconcile the two, you have one or the other. You asked me a very simple question, how did I get into adult. I came from a political background, and I landed in pornography and I found it to be truly the most political place I could be, and that’s served me very well. I also found that it was populated by a bunch of people who were generally the delinquents and the malcontents when they were growing up. They were the kids that were always in detention. They were the ones that dropped out of school. They were the ones that couldn’t sit still. They were the ones that were behind the gymnasium either having sex or smoking cigarettes, and I liked that because they’re the social renegades. They’re the iconoclasts, the ones that think outside the box. They’re the ones that can’t every be inside the house, they have to be outside looking through the window, and I liked that. I don’t find that a disadvantage; I don’t want to be part of the generally accepted precepts that surround them, so it’s a great place to be and I loved it and I never left.
C.J. Asher – Up until recently, you were president of Penthouse Studios; now you’re CEO and Owner of Penthouse. What are your main responsibilities on a day-to-day basis?
Kelly Holland – Originally, I was president of our broadcast operations, which accounted for half of our revenue. By buying the company, I’m now overseeing all of the company, which includes publishing, digital, licensing and broadcast. I’m still hands-on with broadcast because we’re a startup. I bought the company, but I did it with some investor participation. What do I do all day? Right now, we’re building the machine. I’m literally in the process of building the back office, the infrastructure, the accounting system, the human resources, the payroll, the corporate governance structures… all of that stuff that has to underpin it and there’s lots things that underpin running a global company. Our first strategic initiative – and it was always in my business plan for three years – was to get my hands on the digital space. My digital space was always controlled in Silicon Valley by my parent corporation, who just left it to benign neglect. They had nobody working on it, it was on autopilot, it was not representative of the brand and it was not a great pay site. It didn’t exploit who we are and the essence of what Penthouse is. In the business plan, for two years, it has been that the first thing that we needed to do was to relaunch the site to make it both a brilliant brand site: What is Penthouse in 2016? What is the brand, how is it relevant to men, what does it mean, how is it relevant to millennials who never read a magazine? A brand site on its home page, but, also, a great pay site that offers not only content, but the ability to be part of a community. First and foremost, for me right now, digital is everything. Digital is the touch-point to your consumers and your fans. We have to get the digital space out there and we have to get it right. It also becomes adjunct to broadcast; it becomes a part of broadcast. As the president of Apple said, “soon, broadcast will just be an app.” He’s right; broadcast is changing at lightning speed and we have to get control of digital in order to really link in to all of the additional offerings we can give to people in broadcast space, whether that’s over-the-top offerings, streams, feeds or virtual reality, which we’re shooting. We’re shooting in 4k, we’re a company that’s known for being very cutting-edge technology. We were the first to launch a 3D channel. We still have a 3D channel live in Europe. We started shooting 4K over a year ago, so we have a very robust library to launch a 4K channel. The broadcasters are ready, and we’re deeply into virtual reality. So I have a lot of focus on that, I was in Europe recently for a couple of weeks at a trade show meeting with most of my broadcasters. Last week, I was in Las Vegas talking to a large casino resort about some brick-and-mortar. We think brick-and-mortar engagement with our fans is important: it’s not just about watching or reading, it’s about experiencing what Penthouse is: what it is to be part of luxury men’s lifestyle brand, how that really plays out on the ground in clubs, in pubs and in restaurants and lounges. So, there’s a lot on my plate, needless to say. So far, so good. Not sleeping a lot, but that’s okay too.
C.J. Asher – On the topic of the brand, at the 2016 XBIZ Show, you hosted a panel on the importance of branding. Define the Penthouse brand: what it means to you and what you’re trying to portray to the public and the rest of the world.
Kelly Holland – Our simplest mantra, at our most fundamental level, is: “get Penthouse, get the girls.” That’s what great men’s brands are about: we’re going to give you the information, we’re going to give you the tools, we’re going to tell you how to dress, what to wear, what fragrances to use, what to drink, what to say and what to do. “Be the Penthouse man,” in the same way that you’d “be the Bond guy” or “be the Esquire guy.” Iconic men’s brands, at their best. Many fail, and we have failed, many times along the way. Bob Guccione failed in the final years of his life. He is the founder of Penthouse; he failed to really articulate what the brand is. It’s high-end, luxury lifestyle, men’s brand. We have a large female following through our erotic literature, which is part of Penthouse. Dear Penthouse Letters, Dear Penthouse Forum. We have a long tradition, a long history in readers submitting erotic letters, and we publish those. Because of the literature part of it, we also have a big female following, and we have a lot of couples. The reason I know this, by the way, is when I bought the company… had I not bought the company when I bought it, the magazine would’ve gone out of print. The seller had technically closed the magazine, and we were keeping it alive with a very small staff in my Los Angeles offices. We had about three days to meet our deadline to get the magazine to the printer, to keep it on the newsstand and to keep subscriptions going without losing a month, which would’ve just been a nightmare and disastrous to try to recover from. We put a magazine out REALLY fast. We did it in partnership with our Australian publisher. They’re a great publisher in Australia, but he’s softer than we are and the magazine in the United States came out softer, much softer than I would’ve liked. I would call it the “J.C. Penny catalog of men’s brands.” We had to do what we had to do to get it out the door. Consequently, I got a lot of complaints. I would sit every night, until midnight, personally answering customer complaints. And it was funny. Side note, I would answer people and put my signature and people would come back and say, “this is a ‘bot, right? This isn’t really the CEO of Penthouse,” and I would say, “No, this is really the CEO of Penthouse at 11:00 at night answering her complaints.” We ended up striking up some great conversations with some of our fans. The one thing that stood out for me was a very high, disproportionate number of people who wrote me and pointed out that, in that particular edition, we didn’t put a Dear Penthouse Letters. We couldn’t get the letters in on time and get it edited on time. It went out without a Penthouse Letters, so a disproportionate number of the people that complained said, “What happened to Letters? We opened the magazine and my wife and I were looking for it and it’s not there.” I couldn’t have been more surprised, to tell you the truth, that so many people seem to go straight to the letters and they were going there with their wives. I find that so interesting and I’m so respectful of that. I think, you know, with a great brand, you have to keep two things in your sights at all times: you have to keep the brand and its DNA in your sight, but you also have to keep your customers in your sight. I think we lose track of that; we go off on tangents about what we want to do and where we are and where we go and how we do it. I think a lot of companies do this, and they forget the very simple precept of “pay attention to who your customer is and what they want.” So, once again, Penthouse, at its simplest form, is a luxury lifestyle men’s brand which promises you that, if you get Penthouse, you get the girls. Getting Penthouse, whether that’s the magazine, the website, the channels, the products, the membership – we’re going to sell an exclusive membership which gets you into all of our parties, all of our events – whether you go to the Penthouse Pub or you go to a Penthouse Lounge or you go to a Penthouse whiskey bar or cigar bar. All of that is indicative of what we consider “in the pocket” for Penthouse as a brand. We can look at what the brand was fifty years ago; it’s actually fifty-one years old in March (2016). I wanted to get it out now, during its fiftieth anniversary. I thought there would be something poetic about completing the acquisition when it was in its fiftieth year, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, but the universe wasn’t with me on that. We can look at what it was, and look at what its core DNA is: luxury lifestyle, men’s lifestyle. Naked women, hot women… differing from Playboy’s women.
C.J. Asher – How does the Penthouse brand differ from the Playboy brand?
Kelly Holland – To easily characterize it, Playboy’s women always reminded me of the cheerleaders next door that you would NEVER be able to fuck, whereas Penthouse girls generally remind me of the exotic girls that you could fuck if you were driving a Jaguar. It’s those kind of girls, the sophisticated urban girls, international girls, the James Bond girls. I’m very respectful of that DNA and I’m also very respectful of the fact that Bob (Guccione) believed in cutting-edge journalism. He had some of the best writers in the world. He took on difficult topics. All that he established as part of the Penthouse brand was lost for a while under the former ownership, and we are reclaiming that and reembracing it, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work for the “YouTube generation” which consumes everything in three-minute bites on YouTube. We have to be there, but we have to translate the history of what our brand is into the contemporary audience and the contemporary mediums that are out there. Now you see a brand and, if you were in that brand discussion (at XBIZ 2016), you will remember that I said, “the biggest brand debacle of the decade is Playboy taking nudity out of the brand.” That is gutting the DNA of the brand. I don’t know what Playboy is without their centerfolds. It’s not Playboy. And now you’ll see it’s very uncomfortable, very unpleasant and I will tell you that, even though they’re my competitors, I feel really sorry for the bunny right now. That entire situation is unraveling at lightning speed. You see Hugh Hefner and his son, who is the heir apparent to the Playboy empire, to some extent – they own a third of Playboy, it’s the bondholders and the bankers that own the rest – you see them in a public battle with the CEO, Scott Flanders, who declared that he was taking nudity out of the brand and nudity was passé. “Why do (they) need to have naked girls when you can get naked girls on the internet?” which somehow equates gonzo porn with what was in Playboy Magazine. And you see (Hugh) Hefner using the same words, and the very same expression, that I used countless times: it’s not our DNA. He said, “I don’t agree with taking nudity out of the brand. That’s not our DNA.” I’ve been saying “respect your DNA” for three years. That is the essence of brand. You can change, you can grow, you can evolve, but you must always remember that, at the end of the day, Coke is Coke, Apple is Apple, Playboy has to be Playboy and Penthouse has to be Penthouse. There has to be that essence that remains the same, and the essence is the promise of the brand. What does the brand promise? We promise “get Penthouse, get the girl.”
C.J. Asher – From the perspective of someone in the adult industry, how have you seen the industry change the most significantly from when you started in 1994 until now?
Kelly Holland – I think that it’s Moore’s law: it’s an algorithm of an ever-increasing, speeding up of technological development. What that means, unfortunately, is that there are a lot of small players that can no longer participate because they don’t have the resources, the staff, the underpinning or the access to participate, so you have a consolidation of power into fewer and fewer brands. Bigger brands gobble up smaller brands; they gobble up their libraries. Everything now is driven by the ability to be very diverse in how you deliver your technology, how you deliver your content, technology bases that you use to deliver your content. It used to be movie theaters and peep shows, very simple. Then movie theaters, peep shows and VHS tapes… still, pretty simple. The world consumed adult on VHS tapes, then it was DVD, simple. DVD came very fast after VHS. The time between a movie theater and VHS was a long period of time, the time between a VHS and a DVD was a shorter period, the time between DVD and internet was even shorter, and that’s Moore’s law; technology just keeps speeding up. Now, you have the complexity of live streaming, cam girls that are, basically, running their own platform on Facetime or Skype. You have virtual reality, you have multi-screen environments, you have the internet, of course, and everything the internet gives you a capability for. You have much more complex technologies that are much more expensive to create platforms for and deliver them, so that’s why you see this incredible consolidation. I don’t buy the popular media theory that free porn had killed everybody, that’s ridiculous. Free porn has killed free porn is what it amounts to. You have this huge sea of free gonzo porn floating around out there and everything is fairly ubiquitous in the way it looks. Everyone’s competing in the same sort of ocean. I think there’s still a very significant audience that doesn’t want free, and doesn’t want everything that comes with free. Free comes with a lot of pop-ups, a lot of cookies and a lot of hassle to get to free. I think you still have a huge audience with just a very modest amount of disposable income who wants better content. You always have people that want better, right? Not everybody shops at Walmart. Some people, you know, could buy two shirts at Walmart or one shirt at Macy’s. Some people could buy five shirts at Walmart or one shirt at Nordstrom’s, and you’ll (always) have the person that chooses Nordstrom’s because it’s just better. Offering better has its place, and it’s not because everybody has lowered the amount of capital that they’re targeting for content production. It’s a lot of low-end content production: a thousand dollars a scene, fifteen hundred a scene shot by one guy in a funky little room. Because you’ve got an enormous amount of that content competing for shelf space, it continues to depreciate in value. What’s more valuable now is high-end content, so you see companies such as ourselves, New Sensations and Wicked producing good content. That content is in high demand right now, and I think it always will be. There will always be a demand for quality content. It’s all about delivery systems and it’s all about new technologies. It’s never about sex not being sought after; it’s just about where people look. Where they used to look in one place, now they look twenty places. Where they used to look in one place on one device, now its twenty places on twelve devices and you have to be where they look. That’s the biggest change.
C.J. Asher – Who in the adult entertainment industry do you admire and look up to?
Kelly Holland – I admire a lot of what Adam & Eve has done. I admire the way they have diversified and the way that they’ve thought out of the box because they are out of the box: they’re not in the Los Angeles box, they’re in the North Carolina box. They started advertising on radio; I remember when it happened, it was years ago and everybody said they were crazy. They were advertising their products, their catalogs on radio. Everybody said they were nuts, but it worked for them. Then they went for late night television and were doing remnant buys and they had two girls sitting at some stupid table on a couch selling toys. Everybody thought “oh, God,” but it worked. They are now very robust in the retail market, which I very much admire. They have a great retail franchising program for their stores. Last time I heard, they were closing in on a hundred stores. I really admire that; I admire Phil (Harvey), politically, where he came from and why he started Adam & Eve and his guiding principles on that. I’d say Adam & Eve; I really admire what they do. I really get their brand and it’s very professional how they execute.
C.J. Asher – As a business executive and self-proclaimed “feminist,” do you see yourself as a role model for women?
Kelly Holland – Young women, older women, men, different people will come up to me and say, “you’re such an inspiration, you’re so articulate, you’re such a role model,” and every time someone says it to me, I just have to look around and say, “I’m sorry, are you talking to me?” Do I see myself that way? No, absolutely not. I’ve looked at myself my whole life. I see myself as the sixteen-year old who ran away from home and slept under bridges. I see myself as the one who made stupid decisions and fucked up a thousand times. I see myself sitting on a squalid set at four o’clock in the morning dragging my crew through some vision that I had about something that I was shooting. I still, at times, just stop dead in my tracks and go, “how did I get here”? I mean, I still really don’t get who I am at times or who people perceive me to be. I am who I am. I don’t get how people perceive of me to be, and it’s harder and harder. It chokes in my throat when I have to say, “hi, I’m Kelly Holland,” and then say, “I’m CEO and I own Penthouse.” I still have a hard time saying that, like “What? When did I do that?” (laughs) It’s hard to wrap your brain around it, because, first of all, the process is very long; it’s like walking on a tightrope and you never look down. You can’t look down, because if you look down or stop, you’ll fall. You just keep moving and, all of the sudden, you get there and you don’t know how you got there. To use a metaphor, when I first decided to attempt to acquire Penthouse, I looked across a long landscape and I saw a mountain way on the other side of the horizon. And then I never looked again. I just looked down at the road and I just kept walking. One foot, one foot, every day was a hassle. Every day it was some fake Saudi prince or some lunatic oligarch from Russia who I was meeting with for money. Charlatan, thief, lunatic… one right after the other for months and years. The next day, I’d just get up and do it again and again and again. I never looked up, I just kept looking down at that one foot in front of the other and one day I stopped, on February 19, 2016 at 1:39pm Pacific Coast Time, and I closed the deal. I looked up and I went, “oh, where’s the mountain”? and I realized I was on top of it. That, to me, is the best analogy of this whole process. You can’t stop and think about it; it’s not about who you’re going to be, it’s about who you are in process. Who I am and who I have always been is the person who gets up in the morning, cleans the cat boxes – I do animal rescues so I clean the cat boxes – feeds the dog, gets in the car, goes to the office and says, “okay, what are the challenges today”? That hasn’t changed. My day today is very much like my day a year ago or my day five years ago. You just keep doing the work, and the work is what is satisfying and the work is what is the joy. The titles, and the image people that put on you, is not you. I remind myself of this constantly, because it is the trap. The day I start buying my own hype is the day I’m in trouble. The day I don’t say “I’m Kelly Holland, the CEO and I own Penthouse,” the day I say, “Oh, I’m Kelly Holland, I’M CEO AND I OWN PENTHOUSE” is the day I’m in trouble because, somewhere along the line, I bought my hype. I had a reporter in Israel say to me the other day, “oh, my God, this is the most amazing interview! I need to get you on Forbes and I need to get you on The New York Times and I need to get you on the Wall Street Journal,” and I was just like, “Really? Like, what?” I don’t get it. It’s not false modesty, believe me, I’m not pretending to be modest, I really don’t get it, I just go with the flow. Alright, if you just want to listen to me babble on, mazel tov to that. I don’t have to worry about a reality check, because I have to get up every morning and clean cat boxes and that pretty much puts you in your place, so, there you go.
C.J. Asher – There was a rumor circulating a few months back that you were going to stop printing physical copies of the magazine. What’s the direction of going print versus online?
Kelly Holland – My parent corporation, FriendFinder, – the seller, who was going to close the magazine, had I not been successful in the acquisition – put out an ambiguous press release: “We’re closing our New York Offices, we’re going to do a digital offering.” It didn’t say we were closing the magazine, but it was “two and a half plus two equals four, maybe?” CNBC jumped to the conclusion that, by closing the New York Offices, and saying that we were going to additionally offer a digital publication, that we were ceasing (print) publication. The whole thing blew up on a Friday, and I blew up and said that they should’ve been stronger and less ambiguous in their press release. Our parent corporation never listened to me for anything else and there’s no reason why they would change at the last minute. So, Monday, I had to do the rounds of the press and walk back from them, saying, “no, we have every intention on a commitment to print,” which I do. Strategically, there’s a lot of reasons to commit to print and we’re not taking the magazine off the newsstand. Then, the press had to go out and go, “Oh, shoot, we made a mistake. What happened?” The next day, someone inside the New York offices, who had been terminated, leaked to the New York Post that I was scrambling to buy the company and keep the magazine publishing and the New York Post published a big article about that. That was actually a good article, because it cast me as the little limping pony that could win the race and, in fact, I did, so that all really worked in favor of where we were going. So, yeah, it was a little dodgy for a while. The day of acquisition, we didn’t come out really strong globally because, frankly, I wanted to relaunch the website before we put a lot of energy behind the press. That’s because I didn’t want to make a big splash about buying the company. I had to come out with a press release that said, “by the way, we bought the company,” because FriendFinder put out a press release and I had to counter it, since the cat was out of the bag. We’re not going to ramp up press until we launch the website, because I don’t want a bunch of people going, “Oh, Penthouse, what’s going on?” and they go to our website and go… *groans.* I want our vision embedded in that digital space. It’s going to be a constant work in progress, but, it’s something that I’m proud of before I make a big message in the marketplace to send people there. I wanted early days to be reflective of where I am and where I want to go with the brand and what it is we’re trying to say.
C.J. Asher – So, what changes have you made to the format of the Penthouse magazines since you took over?
Kelly Holland – We had several publications: we had Penthouse, Penthouse Letters, Penthouse Variations – which were letters that were fetish-based – and we had Penthouse Forums, which was also letters-based. It was redundant. The main magazine in publishing isn’t going anywhere, but we combined Variations and Letters. We made a bigger book, it was about a hundred and four pages and I think, now, it’s a hundred and thirty-four pages. We combined Variations, but has its own separate section in the back of the book. It’s still letters based and, frankly, because fetish has become more mainstream, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey and just because of our evolving sexuality, readers of Penthouse Letters aren’t going to be shocked by the letters in Variations. We feel that the Variations readers will probably appreciate many of the images in Penthouse Letters proper. Forums is the only magazine we’ve actually stopped publishing because it was redundant to Penthouse.
C.J. Asher – What big projects are you working on and what can we expect to see from the company going forward?
Kelly Holland – With Penthouse, it’s not just what you read, what you watch, what you wear or the fragrances you use, it’s also the experiences that you have. I’m a huge believer in Penthouse Pubs, something I’ve been talking about for a long time. Penthouse launched in 1965 in London, and I want to launch pubs around the United States, coming off of the Hooters, Tilted Kilt and Twin Peaks models. Hooters for me is such an old concept. I want to do a British pub, a hundred microbrews on tap, great whiskeys, great bar food and really hot girls in British schoolgirl outfits with rockin’ 60’s and 70’s music. 60’s and 70’s is a really nostalgic time for us right now. You see Vinyl on HBO, just covering that time. Mad Men kinda ended in that time, so there’s a real desire for that sort of nostalgia of those periods. I think a hot pub, a hot sports bar, great beers, great microbrew beers, hot girls, wonderful music… I mean, how can you go wrong with that? We’re already in discussion with a resort in Las Vegas; I’d love to do a flagship in Las Vegas and roll it out across the country. I hadn’t actually planned that until year two of the new company, but I think that “brick-and-mortar” experiences are really important. That’s where you can really message your brand to a wide spectrum of people. So, long-haul, I’d like to see pubs, I’d like to see retail stores, I’d like to see Penthouse Lounges, which would be more kind of cool, rat-pack bar-lounge kind of environment. So, “brick-and-mortar,” it’s a big one, a really big one.
C.J. Asher – Where did the Penthouse name and the key logo originate from?
Kelly Holland – Bob (Guccione) was living in London in 1965, and he had been watching (Hugh) Hefner. I have great respect for Hugh Hefner and where he came from, very seminal. I think Playboy started in 1952. (Hefner) was instrumental in the civil rights movement, very progressive, very liberal. Hefner had a show in the ‘50’s called Playboy’s Penthouse. Playboy was in the Playboy Building in Chicago and he had a penthouse, he lived there and he would just do these hyper, super cool shows with Lenny Bruce, Ela Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin and all the top trend-makers and cultural icons of the time. He would have them up to the penthouse and he would have them all perform for them. Lenny Bruce would hang out with them, drinking champagne and it was called Playboy’s Penthouse. Well, Bob saw that on television and he thought, “Penthouse, that’s it… penthouse epitomizes men’s lifestyle brand,” so he, in 1955, launched the magazine in the United Kingdom on borrowed money. He was poor, he owed everybody money, but he had this vision for Penthouse. He launched the magazine, and I can only assume that prompted Hefner to change Playboy’s Penthouse. He was forced to change it to Playboy After Dark, which became the show in the ‘60’s, when he had Ike and Tina Turner… he had all of the 60’s acts. So, we got our name from Playboy, and we will always owe that to Playboy. I’d like to say that, even though they’re my competitor, there’s Playboy whose kind of the good boy who does his homework and minds his parents. We’re kind of like the delinquent little brother, who is outside smoking cigarettes behind the barn, who is the one who skips school or stands under the stairs to catch a glimpse of the maid’s underwear. Playboy would never acknowledge that; they would always say that they were very set apart from us. I don’t see that. We owe a lot to Playboy, a lot to Hugh Hefner’s legacy, and part of what we do is almost an homage to Playboy. At the same time, they’re my competitor, so I take them on pretty hard, but always knowing that I have a lot of respect for where they came from and I’m very sad to see them unraveling the way they’re unraveling. Bob was very competitive from the beginning with Playboy. Our early logo wasn’t a key; our early logo was a tortoise. It was the parable of The Tortoise and The Hare, like the rabbit and the turtle. We kept that logo; Bob was an artist and an illustrator, and he actually had the early sketches of him sketching out the tortoise and trying out variations on what the tortoise should look like. They used the tortoise intermittently for quite some time. We did a very famous campaign, it was in the 80’s, in the middle of the New York Times, there was an ad that had the Playboy logo and had a target on it that said, “we’re going rabbit hunting.” That prompted Playboy to respond with a whole series of ads with a tired little tortoise trying to make it down the road and the rabbit running past him. That parable, as you remember, actually ends with the tortoise winning the race. Word to the wise, and those who pay attention to parables: we actually won the race at the end of the day.
C.J. Asher is a sex and adult entertainment blogger who has interviewed celebrities such as Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, BurningAngel.com owner, director, writer and actress Joanna Angel as well as a sugar baby advisor, burlesque dancer, feminist and many others. His blog, CJAsher.com, also review gentlemen’s clubs nationwide and posts a weekly adult entertainment calendar highlighting adult film star appearances. Follow C.J. on Twitter @CJASHEROFFICIAL